Comedy Inc.: The Big Business Of Laughs

comedy, comedian Kathy Griffin, stand-up
comedian Kathy Griffin

The business of discovering and developing new comic talent is hardly a laughing matter. It is a multi-billion dollar industry, yet many in the audience may not realize that.

"One of the things of comedy is that, if it's working ... you don't feel anybody's working too hard," comedian Denis Leary told Sunday Morning correspondent Serena Altschul.

At the movies, comedy is the genre-of-the-moment. Last weekend, the top three box-office grossers — "Borat," "The Santa Clause 3" and "Flushed Away" — were comedies.

TV offers a 24/7 smorgasbord of standup, sitcoms, animation and spoofs. The same goes for the Internet and beyond: Make them laugh and you can find an audience.

You can even find comedy in the most unlikely places — just flip open your cell phone and you can get a standup routine beamed right to your little screen.

Whatever the medium, there are big bucks to be made: Last year, film comedies, TV shows and live performances generated an estimated ten billion dollars - not bad for a profession that, in the words of Rodney Dangerfield, gets no respect.

"Groucho Marx once said, 'I would never want to be a member of a club that would have me as a member,' and I think that's the way comedians feel about themselves sometimes," President of Comedy Central Doug Herzog said. "And they're a very particular lot. They've got a chip on their shoulder, they like to be the underdog."

Comedy Central, a cable channel that was once itself an underdog, has recently enjoyed a string of unexpected hits like "The Daily Show," "South Park," and blue collar comedies that have proven there's a loyal audience for laughter.

"The success of Comedy Central all comes from point of view," Herzog said. "Jon Stewart has a very particular distinctive point of view. Stephen Colbert does, Carlos Mencia does, Dave Chappelle does. We think that's what succeeds. We're not looking for the guy who appeals to everybody."

"I think that everyone responds to someone being on the edge," standup comedian Kathy Griffin said. "I think when we go to a performance or when we watch a comedy special on television, we want to see somebody go out there - we want to see something that we don't quite have the nerve to say around the water cooler, but we kind of wish someone would."

According to Griffin, there are many reasons why comedy seems to be everywhere these days.

"People are dying for a laugh and comedy is unbelievably cheap to produce," Griffin said. "I make up everything that comes out of my mouth. I'm producing the show because it's based on my life, and there're no writers."

It's clear: when it comes to comedy, the bottom line depends on just one thing: talent. Stu Smiley, one of the producers of "Everybody Loves Raymond," said that it's not difficult to tell if someone has what it takes to do well in comedy.